Brazil's Senate suspends President Rousseff; opens impeachment trial

Brazil's Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favour of suspending President Dilma Rousseff from office for 180 days and subjecting her to an impeachment trial on charges of budget irregularities.

The 55-22 vote is a crushing defeat for Rousseff, who has characterized the impeachment proceedings as a parliamentary coup, and deepens the political crisis in Latin America's biggest economy.

The Senate will now investigate the allegations against her in the coming months and then hold a another vote, in which a two-thirds majority would be required to permanently remove her from office.

Her suspension ends 13 years of rule by the leftist Workers' Party (PT), which has become increasingly unpopular for its handling of the battered economy and its connection to a massive corruption scandal involving the state-run oil company, Petrobras.

Brazilian law states that Vice President Michel Temer, of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), must immediately take over as president.

Temer has been Rousseff's deputy since she took office in 2011, becoming the first woman to hold the position of president.

But their relationship has deteriorated, with Rousseff now referring to him as a "traitor," and the PMDB withdrawing from the coalition government last month.

Brazil was one of the world's fastest-growing economies until a few years ago, but is now in the midst of one its worst recessions in decades. Some 11 million Brazilians cannot find a job.

Temer, who is perceived as more market-friendly, has called for investor calm. He said he wants to slim down the number of cabinet positions and make appointments from across the political spectrum.

Rousseff is accused of tampering with figures to disguise the size of Brazil's budget deficit during her 2014 re-election campaign. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Ahead of the Senate vote, local media reported that Rousseff had cleared her personal effects from the presidential office.

Bitter political rival Eduardo Cunha, who was the president of Brazil's lower house, launched the process to impeach Rousseff in December. The chamber voted in favour of her impeachment in April, sending the issue to the Senate upper chamber.

Cunha was suspended last week on allegations he was obstructing a corruption investigation against himself.

In a last-ditch effort to save her presidency, Rousseff appealed to the Supreme Court this week to block the Senate vote, arguing that Cunha had abused his position of power to seek "revenge."

The court rejected her appeal.

Mass street protests broke out in the country last year, reflecting the anger of Brazilians at the government's inability to improve economic conditions and widening corruption scandals that have left around 60 per cent of the 594 members in the National Congress.

The biggest of all the scandals involves state-run Petrobras. Bribes totaling billions of dollars are alleged to have been paid in the awarding of dozens of contracts by the oil giant to construction companies. Some of the money was then shared with politicians from several political parties.

Rousseff was chairwoman of the Petrobras board between 2003 and 2010, when the kickback schemes were said to have taken place.

She denies having had any knowledge of wrongdoing and has not been charged in the case. She has been mired in the scandal, however, helping to drive her popularity rating down to around its current 14 per cent.

Last update: Thu, 12/05/2016 - 12:41
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